Lima: run-ins with the police and kids days out (not on the same day!)

Our time in Lima didn’t start out very well, with John having a run-in with the police twice  in as many days. Firstly, after arriving from the night bus, we went to the hostel we had booked over the phone. Stupidly we hadn’t checked TripAdvisor and it was an absolutely horrible place. It was filthy, damp, unorganised and no way were we going to stay there. We spent the morning trying to find somewhere else (which was difficult, most places were fully booked) and when we did, John went back to collect our luggage. Unfortunately, there was a disagreement and they insisted on us paying for a whole night. When John refused, they got the police involved and told them all sorts of lies, that we had breakfast there (wouldn’t touch it), we showered there (wouldn’t step foot in that filthy shower) and slept there (beds were unmade and dirty – no thank you). As John wisely decided he didn’t want to have a run-in with the police in Peru, he ended up paying most of the room rate, even though we only stored our bags there for a few hours.

On day two, we had another unfortunate incident. Our youngest was being an absolute nightmare, having a huge temper tantrum and not being at all reasonable. We put him on the balcony for a minute to calm down (perfectly safe balcony) but just as we did that, a police car went by and insisted to speak to John and get his passport number so they could write up a report. Luckily, they were friendly enough and didn’t seem to want to take this any further (after about 45 minutes of pretty good diplomacy from the hostel owner).

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

The rest of our time in Lima, we looked at some of the old churches and convents in the old town and visited the Spanish Inquisition Museum. All fairly interesting, but nothing spectacular. The other days we visited places that were interesting for the children. We visited the local Zoo in Parque de las Leyendas. The zoo was alright, but very spread out and no maps available. We were constantly wondering where the heck we were. There were good local food options in the zoo, some interesting old ruins in the park and some lovely areas to play for the children. The entrance fee is very reasonable and I would certainly recommend it for a day out with children.

Ready for some animal spotting at Lima Zoo!

Ready for some animal spotting at Lima Zoo!

We also went to the Parque de las Reservas, which has a multitude of marvellous, huge fountains which are really a joy to see, especially at night. From Wednesday to Sunday they do a light show with music at 7.15 and 8pm and it is really fantastic. One fountain is like a tunnel and another dares you to run to the middle without getting wet. It is hilarious to see people to try and run through and most of them get absolutely soaked. We were cowards and didn’t try, in our defence it was quite cold and we didn’t have any spare clothes with us.

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As a special treat to the children we went to Divercity, an indoor children’s attraction. It is basically a town built for children. The entrance fee is a bit pricey but it is very well done. They get their own bank account with bank card and they can earn cash by working as a firefighter, ambulance driver, gas(wo)man and other professions. They can then spend their money by going rock climbing, get their nails done or take the bus. Parents are only visitors and are shooed to the coffee shop and let the kids get on with it. Our children absolutely loved it.

Whizzing around in a fire engine - great fun!

Whizzing around in a fire engine – great fun!

Our next stop was Cusco (for Machu Picchu) and because it is an 21-hour bus ride we decided to fly. A mistake in hindsight but I will you about that in our next post.

Flight from Lima to Cusco, Peru.

Flight from Lima to Cusco, Peru.

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The north coast of Peru

We had a lovely month in Cuenca but we felt it was time to move on and explore Peru. We took the night bus to Peru and had planned to get off at Mancora, having been told it was a 10-hour journey. We left at 8pm, so that would mean an early arrival of 6am but we thought that was manageable. Unfortunately, we were misinformed and arrived at Mancora at 3.30am! The children were fast asleep, it was pitch dark and we hadn’t arranged accommodation yet. We didn’t feel comfortable with this and asked the driver if we could stay on until the next destination, Puria. No problem, pay $5 each extra and we are on our way. At about 6am, we arrived at Puria, but the children still fast asleep and looking at the bleak landscape outside, we didn’t want to get off the bus! Same tactic, pay a bit extra and we are on our way to the next stop: Chiclayo.

We arrived at Chiclayo at 10am (kids are awake now) and got off, had some breakfast and got our bearings and looked for a hotel in the Lonely Planet. Chiclayo itself was busy, dusty and manic but the main attraction here is tours to museums and archeological sites. We booked a day tour to see Museum National Sipan, Museum Tumbas Reales de Sipan and the Sipan archeologicla site itself. The Sipan were one of the many predecessors to the Incas. The two museums were pretty good but the archeological site was a bit of a disappointment. We weren’t allowed at the interesting bits and we were left with a big rock to climb with a mildly ok view.

Trek to Sipan ruins

Trek to Sipan ruins

The hotel receptionist told us that the seaside resort of Pimentel was very ‘bonito’ so we took a taxi to have a look there, but we shouldn’t have bothered. The place was dead, the beach dirty and the restaurant proprietors hassly.

Pimentel beach - with loads of building rubble dumped everywhere!

Pimentel beach – with loads of building rubble dumped everywhere!

The next city on the the coast towards Lima is Trujillo, with a seaside resort a couple of miles west called Huanchaco. We decided to stay at the seaside town, hoping it was better than Pimentel but our expectations weren’t high. We were so glad that we were pleasantly surprised. A surfers paradise, the place is laid-back, has a couple of nice bars and restaurants and the beach is clean-ish. The waves are amazing and we’ve seen some spectacular surfing. We decided to hang out here for a few days and spent our days fishing (after two days of trying we finally caught a fish) and playing on the beach and have had some pretty damn good food and wine/beer. We took a day trip to Trujillo and the nearby archeological site of Chan Chan and the accompanying museums. Very interesting, the site is vast and at the hight of the Chimu empire there were 60,000 in habitants, about 600 years ago.

Chan Chan Palace Ruins.

Chan Chan Palace Ruins.

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John and Nesta’s mini vacation.

Angelique and the girls had booked in for 3 weeks of spanish lessons in Cuenca, leaving myself and Nesta to entertain ourselves each morning, strolling the streets and taking in the sites. After a week of this I decided to travel further afield and went on a 10 day mini vacation with Nesta, taking in the Andes and the Amazon.

Our first stop, Riobamba ended up being a bit of a nightmare journey. The bus had a puncture which added 2 hours to the trip and I missed the drop off point and ended up travelling 2 hours further than Riobamba! We were dropped off by the side of the road in the pitch dark which was slightly unnerving – but I managed to jump on a bus going back the other way within half an hour. So all was well in the end.

Puncture took 2 hours to fix - quite interestng to watch though.

Puncture took 2 hours to fix – quite interesting to watch though.

We spent a couple of days in Riobamba and headed to Baños. Baños is a popular tourist resort for both backpackers and Ecuadorians. It is known for its hot springs, waterfalls, high adrenalin sports and beautiful country side. We went on a 3 hour Chiva Bus ride around the outskirts of Baños and saw plenty of waterfalls and did a cool cable cart ride to one of the waterfalls

Chiva bus trip around Banos with banging reggaeton blasting out of the speakers.

Chiva bus trip around Baños with banging latin music blasting out of the speakers.

From Baños, we went to the outskirts of the Amazon to Tena. We booked a one day guided tour which included a canoe trip and a visit to an indigenous tribe. I don’t know what I was expecting on a one day tour but the tribal visit was very touristy and a bit gimmicky! We really enjoyed the hot weather in Tena and hung around for a couple of days.

Canoe trip

Canoe trip

From Tena, we headed back up to the Andes to visit the Thursday Market at Guamote. A fascinating experience with just hill tribe people going about their business. Very surprised to not see any other tourists at the market and Nesta got a lot of attention (which he hates).

Guamote market

Guamote market

Our final stop before heading back to Cuenca was the very scenic Devils Nose train ride from Alausi. Awesome views from the train which travelled very close to cliff edge. Not for anyone scared of heights!

Nesta loved the train journey.

Nesta loved the train journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spending some time in Cuenca, Ecuador

From the coast, we had a quick stop in Montañita where Amy had some surf lessons. It was a bit chilly unfortunately so that spoiled the fun somewhat. Montañita was ok, but not really our cup of tea, it is a good place to party though.

Amy's first surf lesson.

Amy’s first surf lesson.

We spent a few day in Guayaquil on our way to Cuenca. It is the second largest city in Ecuador and quite modern. It has a newly built promenade along the river with play parks, restaurants and shops. It is quite nice (and warm!) but we were ready to go to Cuenca where we had arranged an apartment for a 2-week stay. We were getting somewhat tired of spending a lot of time in one room together and the hostels we have stayed in recently haven’t been fantastic (not that bad either though).

Another town, another play park...

Another town, another play park…

The apartment in Cuenca is bloody marvellous. Three bedrooms, all mod cons, we are happy!

Much appreciated hone comforts!

Much appreciated home comforts!

We’ve also arranged for the girls and myself to have more Spanish lessons, whilst the boys will go and do a mini-trip to Baños for a couple of days. The girls are absolutely loving their lessons and I keep hearing them giggle in their class room. They manage to learn quite a bit though!

Cuenca itself is, again, a beautiful colonial town and it has been a UNESCO heritage site since 1999.

Parque Centrale, Cuenca

Parque Centrale, Cuenca

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Lots of travelling to get to the Ecuadorian coast

We stayed in Quito again for a couple of days after the Otavalo markets, where we decided that the next stop was the coast as we didn’t want to miss the whale watching season. The only way to get to the coast directly was a 10-hour coach journey. Having had a couple of cases of car sickness and knowing we would have to go along lots of mountainous roads, we felt it would be better to break the journey up in a couple of stages. We are not in a rush, so why not.

Another bus journey. Don't worry, the picture of Jesus on the front of the bus will prevent any crashes!

Another bus journey. Don’t worry, the picture of Jesus on the front of the bus will prevent any crashes!

First leg of the journey was Quito – Quevedo, a 5-hour journey where we descended from the mountains to more or less sea level. And higher temperatures. It was quite nice to feel the warmth again getting off the bus. We had some problems finding affordable accommodation. The hotels were either really expensive or absolute dives. Finally we found a reasonable place….or so we thought. It turned out to be a hotel where you could rent a room for a few hours. We all crammed in a double bed room and myself and Bella slept on the floor. And although the showers were see-through with blue lights and the room had no sheets, we actually all slept well. It was well sound-proofed (ha!) and the owner was very helpful and friendly (I am sure he and the taxi-driver had a good giggle about the weird English family that slept in a brothel). It was also very well-finished and spotless. We have had far worse experiences on this trip and it was quite interesting to see a place like this on the inside. And the kids had absolutely no idea of course, they just really like playing with the funny lights in the room.

Oh look - there is a curtain for the car!

Oh look – there is a curtain for the car!

That's funny - you can rent the room by the hour!

That’s funny – you can rent the room by the hour!

Next night we had a very uneventful stay in Portoviejo. We didn’t really have time to look at the town, we just stayed over the road from the bus station and left the next day for Puerto Lopez.

Puerto Lopez on first impressions was a bit ‘unfinished’. Lots of half finished buildings and lots of dirt and rubbish everywhere. Strangely the place did grow on us as it was friendly and the food was excellent just about everywhere we ate (that certainly helps).

Puerto Lopez - nice but basic.

Puerto Lopez – nice but basic.

We had a day of whale watching there and it was absolutely amazing. The whales come so close to the boat that Bella actually got very scared and panicked a bit. The rest of us just thought it was amazing. The tour guide was very friendly and on the way back they let us sit at the top of the boat, courtesy of the captain. All in all an amazing trip.

Breath taking to watxh so close up!

Breath taking to watch so close up!

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The markets of Otavalo and relaxing Mindo.

After our week in Quito we travelled by bus to Mindo. It took about 1.5 hours and was a nice, scenic drive. Mindo is a small town of about 2,500 people and it is a mix of locals, backpackers and foreigners having settled in the town. The streets don’t have much traffic and there are children playing everywhere. We felt there was a lovely atmosphere and we stayed in a nice hostel (BioHostal) as well.

Mindo, Ecuador - A very chilled out town.

Mindo, Ecuador – A very chilled out town.

We spent almost a week there in the end and we found it hard to leave, we loved the place so much. There was quite a bit to do around the town as well. One day we went up to a park where you had to take a rickety cable cart to get to the other side of the valley. From there you could do several hikes to different waterfalls. We had a lovely morning there and were glad we started and left fairly early as the queues for the cable cart were getting really long (to get in, whilst we were on our way out).

Fun way to travel...

Fun way to travel through the forest

We also went to a butterfly farm. There are several, but we went to Mariposa de Mindo and it was worth the walk there. I have never seen so many butterflies up close and the children were delighted to be able to hold the butterflies on their fingers.

A rare chance to see them up close!

A rare chance to see them up close!

On other days we went horseback riding and spent a couple of hours at Bonito Mindo, a place where they had a swimming pool, humming bird garden and a little boat lake with a zip line over it.

After a week in Mindo and having slept well, eaten well and lots of fun, we felt more relaxed than we have in a while.

After Mindo, we decided to go to Otavalo. It is famous for its market on Saturday, it is huge and you can get clothes, souvenirs, food and textiles. There is also an animal market that is worth visiting. Locals sell their horses, cows, sheep, chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs and cats here. It is hectic, smelly and amazing.

2 scarves for $5 - everybody's happy!

2 scarves for $5 – everybody’s happy!

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Quito, Ecuador: Beautiful, affordable and lots to do

We started our time in Ecuador surprisingly early. I thought we were flying out of Panama City on the 22nd of July but turned out it was the 20th. Just as well I checked, although only 3,5 hours before the flight! Luckily we made it without any problems. We did end up walking around Quito in the dark at 8pm to find a hotel that had a room but the 3rd or 4th place we tried had space so it didn’t turn out to be too much of a problem.

Now Quito. So much to do. We explored the old town a few times, it is beautiful, well kept and lovely to just walk around in. We saw the changing of the guards on the Grand Plaza (every Monday morning at 11am) and we didn’t only see the guards but also the president of Ecuador who came out to wave to the crowds.

Changing of the guards in Quito. The president was there too.

Changing of the guards in Quito. The president was there too.

We stocked up on some warmer clothes (it is great for shopping) and had a stroll in La Ronda (a lovely, old, restored street).

La Ronda, Quito, Ecuador, 5onthego

Playing on La Ronda, Quito.

We spent a lot of time in Parque Eljida as they have a little artisan market but more importantly, lots of play frames, swings, sea saws and zip wires. Kids loved it.

We also visited the Teleferico, which is a mountain on the edge of the city, where you can take a cable cart to get to the top. The views are amazing and the cable cart ride an event in itself (don’t go on it if you are afraid of heights).

Teleferico, Quito, 5onthego

View from the cable cart with Quito in the background

At the bottom of the cable cart there is actually a huge fun park called Park Volqano and of course we took the kids there for a bit. Every ride is paid for separately, you buy a card where you put on the money you wish to spend at the park. At every ride they swipe the card and you can see how much balance you had left. There are rides for all ages and most of them are quite reasonably priced. We put $20 on the cards and we were there for a good few hours. Oh and no queues anywhere!

On another day, we took the bus to Ciutad del Mundo, where there is a monument to illustrate the equator.

Equator, Ecuador, 5onthego

Standing on the equator

There is also a small museum, some shops and a play park. It was nice enough but a bit weird. The bus on the way back stopped at the Angel, a statue on a hill with again a lovely view of the city.

We spent almost a week in Quito, the weather was perfect and there was so much to see and do. We will probably be back there on our way to other destinations and we are looking forward to spend a bit more time there.

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Things that are very different in Central America

There is the obvious, like the weather, the people and food. However, other things we have noticed that are different:

1. Health and Safety
Basically, there is none. Hazards are everywhere and you soon learn to look where you walk. No council or NHS to sue here.

2. Breastfeeding
There is a lot less of a stigma here because everyone does it. I’ve seen women breastfeeding their baby whilst walking down the street and nobody batters an eyelid.

3. Armed guards in shops and barbed windows
Metal barred windows are pretty much standard anywhere in Central America. In the poorer countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua there are armed guards standing outside most shops. We’ve even seen them outside some McDonald restaurants. It is pretty weird.

4. It’s good luck to touch the head of young children.
I am not sure what the background is on this, but it has happened many of times. Particularly to our youngest blue eyed boy. He will go: ‘Hey, that (wo)man just touched my head’

5. You’re never too young to work…..
Unfortunately. We have seen many kids barely done with toddling trying to sell wares on the streets or clean shoes.

6. Toilet paper does not go in the toilet. Ever.
Ok, maybe I was a bit ignorant on this, but I really didn’t know this before we came here. Toilet paper goes in the bin next to the toilet as sewage systems can’t cope with toilet paper.

7. Bugs, flies and mosquitoes.
I knew this. But I guess I had kind of forgotten how hot weather breeds the bugs, flies and mosquitoes. And that they are everywhere, all the time. Unless you are near a breezy coast, then it doesn’t seem to be so bad.

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“Muuum! There is an ant on my tooth brush”

Travelling in hot, developing countries obviously comes with a certain amount of bugs and small ‘wildlife’. How do the children deal with? Apart from yelling out about ants on toothbrushes, what about the really yucky ones like spiders and cockroaches? Well, half the time they don’t notice them and I’m certainly not going to point it out to them. Multiple times I have quickly disposed of some creepy-crawlies before they were in eyesight of the children. It has also helped that we are mainly staying in mid-range places that have been kept relatively clean. They have freaked out about the odd spider but when disposed, they are fine. But I have to admit that we haven’t run into one of those REALLY big ones.

Mosquitoes, however, have been a bit of a different story. They have been a nuisance in many of the places we have stayed in. We have used the spray but it only helps up to a point. Basically, they had to get used to the bites and mainly they have. They have learnt to try and not to scratch them, and they go away and stop itching quickly.

In Roatan (Honduras), we had to deal with the sandflies. Luckily the children weren’t too badly effected but John had about 200 bites on his back at some point. It did spoil the fun somewhat and the buggers take ages to clear up.

So, all in all, the bugs actually haven’t been too bad and certainly hasn’t had any impact on our trip. Although I am waiting for the first case of bed bugs…

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We’ve fallen a little bit in love with Panama City

The border crossing between Costa Rica and Panama was confusing, chaotic but somehow we managed to get in the right queues and get the right stamps. And now, Panama. Admittedly we didn’t know very much about Panama. We know it is got the Canal and we know the canoe guy fled here with his wife. But not much else. Not that we have now seen that much, we have stopped in David (about an hour over the border from Costa Rica), went up in the hills to Boquete and then travelled straight to Panama City. And that’s it, we won’t see more than that but it will give us a flavour of the country.

David is the second largest city in Panama and to be honest, not that great. It is a city; busy, hot and a bit gritty. We didn’t hang around and after one night went straight to Boquete, which is a lovely town up in the hills, about 1.5 hour bus ride away from David. From this town you can do a lot of hiking and it has beautiful scenery. We had a lovely few days there and particularly enjoyed an afternoon at Jungla de Panama Wildlife Refuge. It took us two hours to get there by foot, we were led to believe by the tourist office it was about a half hour but that was not the case! 5onthego, Boquete, PanamaWe wished we had taken the collectivo that goes about once an hour. In any case, we loved the refuge centre, it is only small but the people there are very friendly and we got to feed the monkeys from up close. We also saw parrots, a tortoise, geese, goats and a snake.

5onthego, Boquete, Jungla, Panama

Touching the Boa Constrictor at the Rescue Centre

The owners were lovely and the food in the restaurant was nice with big portions.

From Boteque we went straight to Panama City. We got on the local bus at 8.30am, changed buses in David at 11am and arrived in Panama City at 7pm. We had booked and confirmed a room at Mamallena hostel but unfortunately the room wasn’t available when we got there at 8pm. The guy phoned around and said he found us a room elsewhere, a five minute walk away. So there we went, in the dark, in not a great area, in Panama City, in search of some hotel. When we got there, they didn’t have a record of his phone call but luckily they did have a room available. Not the best start in Panama City but hey-ho.

Saying that, since then we have had a fabulous time in Panama City. We visited the old town, a real mish-mash of ruins and lovely restored colonial buildings. Panama city, 5onthegoWe visited the Panamian Canal museum in the old town, unfortunately everything was in Spanish and staff at the museum wasn’t to keen on children. It was cheap, but unless you have good Spanish not really worth the visit.

On another day we went to visit the Panama Canal itself and it was an amazing experience. Panama Canal, 5onthegoVery good museum there (with English translation!) where the highlight was a room where you could pretend being in control of the ship going through the canal.

Panama Canal, 5onthego

Pretending to steer the ship through the locks at the Canal

The kids were in heaven. We spend most of the day at the Canal and we all loved it.

Panama City itself is such an interesting blend of the old town (with colonial buildings being restored) and the new town with skyscrapers. Panama City inhabitants are as varied as its landscape. Expats, Hispanics, white, black, indigenous, they are all here. There is a lot of construction everywhere, there is a vibrance and optimism about the city that is quite catching. We’ve fallen a little bit in love with it.

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